Friday, 21 August 2015

"Come to the edge," he said. - The Czech Cubo-Expressionist Bohumil Kubišta


21 July 1884, the auspiciously named Bohumil Kubišta, one of the founders of Czech modern painting, was born in the village of Vlčkovice, some 80 miles northeast of Prague.


“The whole is other than the sum of the parts" (Kurt Koffka, Gestalt psychologist, 1886 – 1941) 

Bohumil Kubišta: "Polibek Smrti" (The Kiss of Death, 1912)





During the first decade of the 20th century in Berlin, three students of the German philosopher and psychologist Carl Stumpf set forth to comprehend our ability to perceive and comprehend forms and provide them with a meaningful correlation to an apparently chaotic world. Around 1910, one of them, Max Wertheimer, had formulated his Gestalt theory in six laws that basically defined the parts human perception is composed from. Three years earlier, almost synchronously, in 1907, Picasso had, inspired by Cézanne's “Les Grandes Baigneuses“, Gauguin and African art, created a modern masterpiece that formally structured the space of the canvas and re-aligning the emerging dynamics and values, leaving perspective and meaning to the viewer of the painting. “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon“ was the prelude to arguably the most influential art form among the 20th century’s pluralism of styles, Cubism, and Picasso and his friend Georges Braques began to change the world of art forever. “The senses deform, the mind forms”, Braques wrote quite along the lines of Wertheimer and the Gestalt theory, when his and Picasso’s works entered their next short but highly contagious phase later dubbed “Analytic Cubism“. Closed, coherent forms were dissolved in favour of the form’s rhythm and light, since the Renaissance more often than not just another colour to simulate form, did play no role at all any longer while the painting itself emerged from the background and not vice versa. A revolution indeed and a revelation for the young Czech expressionist Bohumil Kubišta who met Braques and Picasso in Paris and carried the second major influence of his short artist’s life back home to Prague to become the major representative of a Czech peculiarity of the new movement - Cubo-Expressionism, faithful to the motto of “Die Brücke” Kubišta was a member of: “Anyone who directly and honestly reproduces that force which impels him to create belongs to us."




Expressionist self-portrait of the artist as a young man in 1908


Paris’ mouthpiece of Modern Art Guillaume Apollinaire promptly uttered that he’d envy the Czechs since they had a Cubist by birth, Kubišta, however, never quite followed the path of Analytic Cubism to the very end, nevertheless he and his colleagues made Prague the most important centre of Cubism outside of Paris. He saw, however, still quite the expressionist, the dissolution of form as a way to capture or at least approach the “spiritual essence” of a sujet along with that of the whole modern era. And while the Parisians attempted to dismantle perception, leaving the rest to the viewer and decidedly did not care about the narrative of the image, even still lifes came out as little dramas under Kubišta’s brush. No wonder, since Edvard Munch was a major formative influence after the academy-trained artist saw his exhibition in Munich in 1905 and believed that Modern Art was the next step after El Greco and Delacroix. Consequently, he studied colour theory and the harmonic and compositional principles of the Old Masters as well as those of the Moderns and found his spiritual home with the artists of “Die Brücke”. And while other Czech Cubists like František Kupka drifted towards abstraction beyond the blend of form’s fragmentation and Expressionism’s emotionality, Kubišta, almost naturally, began to flirt with Surrealism while the Great War descended upon Europe. Kubišta was called to the front lines like many other contemporary artists, survived the horror only to succumb to the global 1918 flu pandemic and died in Prague at the age of just 34, leaving a small but most interesting legacy behind.



Bohumil Kubišta: "Soldier" (1912)


And more about Bohumil Kubišta on:


And Czech Cubism on: